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The Taste of Apple Seeds: Review, Interview, & Giveaway

Thursday, February 6, 2014
Having read and love The Taste of Apple Seeds, I'm delighted to have author Katharina Hagena here on the blog today to talk about the book, which was released February 4th in the United States by William Morrow!

The Taste of Apple Seeds
by Katharina Hagena

Genre: Contemporary, Magical Realism
Paperback: 256 Pages
Publication: February 4, 2014
by William Morrow

When Iris unexpectedly inherits her grandmother's house in the country, she also inherits the painful memories that live there.

Iris gives herself a one-week stay at the old house, after which she'll make a decision: keep it, or sell it. The choice is not so simple, though, for her grandmother's cottage is an enchanting place where currant jam tastes of tears, sparks fly from fingertips, love's embrace makes apple trees blossom, and the darkest family secrets never stay buried.

As Iris moves in and out of the flicker between remembrance and forgetting, she chances upon a forgotten childhood friend who could become more.

The Taste of Apple Seeds is a bittersweet story of heartbreak and hope passed down through the generations.

Author Interview

Tell us a little about yourself and how you got into writing.
When I was a child I wanted to become a writer or an opera singer. At ten I was convinced I had already achieved both.

About ten years later I had stopped both writing and singing. I had begun to study German and English literature and was shocked and indignated to realise that other writers had already said everything I had always wanted to say myself - and much better than I would have ever been able to say it. I decided to dedicate my life to words anyhow and thus became a lecturer for modern literature. I started teaching German at Trinity College, Dublin and two years later English Literature at the University of Hamburg.

After the birth of my children I was surprised to find out that there was a world outside the university. And gradually the yearning for a particular story filled my head - maybe because there was finally room for it. Since I wanted this story to exist but couldn't find it anywhere I had to write myself. I took comofort in the fact that, yes, everything has already been said - but not by everyone. After writing the story I sent it to a publisher and he took it and that was it.

Sadly, I have never become an opera singer.

What inspired the writing of The Taste of Apple Seeds?
My main desire was to write a novel about forgetting. Every kind of forgetting one could think of, muddled-headedness, deliberate suppression, the collective forgetting of the generation who lived through the war, dementia, self-protective forgetting, the deliberate manipulation of one's own memories, the attempt to not remember something, and so on and so forth. Each character has her or his own story of forgetting. I wanted it to be set in the North of Germany, this flat noman's land with its heavy clouds and salty winds - a landscape inhabited by people who feel strongly but rather not talk.

In your interview with Atlantic Books, it's brought up that Bertha's house is based on your grandparent's house. Why did you pick this particular setting to write about and how did you go about fictionalizing it?
Why does one pick settings, lovers, stories? I have dreamed about the house all my life. I used to spent all my childhood summers there and I was always a little lonely and a little bored. I had no friends in my grandmother's village. So I spent a lot of time just wandering about the house or rummaging in those innumerable rooms, chests and wardrobes while wearing old ballgowns all day long. Maybe it was this place that made me become a person who makes up stories. After writing the book my dreams of the house stopped. I wonder if they'll ever come back. I wished they would.

Iris is intrigued by the relationship of forgetting and writing. How have memories played a role in your writing process?
I believe less and less in memories. They are amorphous in the first place and then keep changing. One often thinks one's memories are "the truth" but take two human beings who witnessed one event and you will have two stories - both true, at least for them.

On the other hand, the very process of making up a story feels like rembering something from the past. The only difference is that this thing hasn't happened (yet?).

So the more ficticious my memories are the more like memories my fiction seems to be. And it is at the interface of these two phenomena where I want my writing to be placed. Thus, I strongly believe in the truthfulness of fiction. Bertha's house has never been exactly how I describe it but my version of it is has proved to be more solid than the house itself.

The Taste of Apple Seeds explores the lives of three generations of women. How are the stories of the older women important to Iris's story in the present?
Iris has been avoiding to face her own story for a long time. So since she has come to the house, the very location of her story, she needs to tell everybody else's story first. But it is more than just a way of dodging reality - whatever that is now. The stories of her aunts and her grandmother Bertha gradually make it possible for her own story to re-surface. In many ways Bertha is Iris's counterpart. For as Bertha's memories slowly vanish Iris, equally slowly, allows her memories to come back.

Why did you decide to tell the story primarily through the lens of Iris's memories and stories that she has heard?
It is a means to simultaneously create distance and intimacy. I want Iris to be clearly unreliable. I am not interested in some authoritative voice that tells the reader what is what, preferably in a chronological order! I wanted the text to work like a memory itself, with leaps and blanks and holes and repetitions, additions, educated guesses, flashbacks, associations, surmises, images, daydreams, stories that are triggered off by a word or a half-smile Iris believes to detect in the face of another person.

What are you working on right now?
At the moment, an illustrator and myself are working on a long-term James-Joyce-project, which is quite wonderful. And I am tentatively stretching out my feelers to find out if there is a third novel out there that might need to be written down.

About the Author

Born in 1967, Katharina Hagena studied English and German Literature in Marburg, London, and Freiburg, before lecturing at Trinity College Dublin and the University of Hamburg. Her first book What are the wild waves saying? Waterways Through Joyce's Ulysses was published in 2006. The Taste of Apple Seeds is her first novel. She currently lives in Hamburg, Germany.

Connect with Katharina
Website | Goodreads

◆ A copy was provided by Harper Collins for review ◆

The old house that Iris has inherited carries many ghosts, for it has seen a large portion of the lives of the women of the Deelwater family (Deelwater being Iris's grandmother's maiden name) pass through its lands. While spending time in the house trying to decide what to do with her unexpected inheritance, Iris finds herself remembering the stories she's heard about the women in her family as well as the ones she's seen with her own eyes.

The writing is gorgeous and haunting. It is given to long descriptions of scenery, but it doesn't grow old or dull because the descriptions are so beautifully wrought and vivid. In fact, I enjoyed watching the scenes unfold. Located in a German countryside, the story is filled with hidden treasures to discover, and Katharina Hagena's writing really brings the setting and characters to life. As it was originally told in German and is set in Germany, The Taste of Apple Seeds does contain references that I would have to look up to fully comprehend, but the story provides enough context that it didn't really detract from my enjoyment of the novel.

Though the story occasionally centers on a male character, the focus is on the women in Iris's family on her grandmother Bertha's side as told through anecdotes and memories pieced together from the past. These anecdotes showcase the women's unique personalities, their fears, and their desires. And it relays their stories of love and heartbreak. None of them have led perfect lives; each of them has her secrets and regrets, and this story is about how these stories are remembered, distorted, forgotten through time and retellings. Mixed into the storytelling are threads of magical realism through the response of the garden to significant events in the women's lives and in the way Iris seems to know (or assume) what happens to relations when she wasn't there to experience certian events. Thus, at the same time that Iris ponders over the process of remembering and forgetting, forgetting and remembering, the accuracy of her own narration is brought into question.

Iris is a delightfully quirky character (how many girls dress up in old ballgowns and go out in them!), and her story is intertwined with those of her female relations. Though the story jumps around a lot in time, there is a fluidity to it, and the stories flow into one another, expanding on concepts brought up earlier in the novel. The old house is filled with memories, and Iris finds herself remembering stories passed down to her about her grandparents, her mom, and her aunts, in addition to childhood summers spent with her older cousin Rosemarie and their good friend Mira, summers whose memories are colored by the tragedy that strikes the year Rosemarie would have turned sixteen. Though hints of the tragedy weave throughout the story, the memories are presented in such a fashion that they build into a climax towards the end of the novel, which I appreciate. I also enjoyed watching Iris's growing relationship with Mira's younger brother Max progress in the present. The flirty banter between them is a lot of fun, and their hesitancy in getting involved with each other is full of adorableness. I almost wish that there was more of it, but the other women's stories are just as fascinating in another, more heartbreaking way.

The Taste of Appleseeds is filled with themes of forgetting and remembrance. At the same time that there is a lot of talk of forgetting—at some point, Iris even calls the house the House of Forgetting—there is a lot of remembering. Along with these are questions about what is truth and what is fabrication of the mind. There was a just a little too much talk of forgetting, to the point that I wonder about Iris's obsession with the gain and loss of memories. Still, each time the topic comes up, a new metaphor is skillfully wrought to describe it, and I can't complain about the writing.

I was captivated from start to finish.

Additional Information
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William Morrow is hosting a tour-wide giveaway of an “Apple Tree To Be” Kit as the grand prize, as well as three copies of the book to runner-ups.

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